Tag: icbc settlement advice

Working out the Kinks – More on Rule 37B and BC Injury Cases

Very important reasons for judgment were released today (AE v. DWJ) by the BC Supreme Court giving more interpretation to Rule 37B.  (Click here to read my previous posts discussing this rule.)
Rule 37B is still relatively new and the courts have not come up with a consistent application of this rule.  Today’s case takes this rule in a potentially new direction that can make access to justice a little less costly and risky for Plaintiff’s advancing injury claims.
In today’s case the Plaintiff was awarded damages of $348,075 after taking into account contributory negligence.  After statutory deductions the judgment in the Plaintiff’s favor was less than the Defendant’s formal offer of settlement.
The Defendant’s lawyer applied to court for an order that “the defendant should receive his costs (After the date that they made their formal settlement offer)”.
In declining to make this order Mr. Justice Goepel stated that under Rule 37B “the court cannot award costs to the defendant (where the defendant beats their formal settlement offer at trial) but is limited to depriving a party of costs or awarding double costs“.  This is the first case I’m aware of interpreting Rule 37B in this fashion.
Below I reproduce the highlights of Mr. Goepel’s reasoning:

Judicial Discretion In Awarding Costs

[48] The discretion a Supreme Court judge has in awarding costs was summarized in Stiles v. British Columbia (Workers’ Compensation Board) (1989), 38 B.C.L.R. (2d) 307 at 310, 39 C.P.C. 2(d) 74 (C.A.):

The power of a Supreme Court judge to award costs stems from s. 3 of the Supreme Court Act which confirms that the judges of the Supreme Court have the inherent powers of a judge of superior court of record.  The power to award costs is governed by the laws in force in England before 1858 and by the enactments, including the Rules of Court, affecting costs made in British Columbia since 1858.  Generally, the decisions on costs, including both whether to award costs, and, if awarded, how to calculate them, are decisions governed by a wide measure of discretion.  See Oasis Hotel Ltd. v. Zurich Ins. Co., 28 B.C.L.R. 230, [1981] 5 W.W.R. 24, 21 C.P.C. 260, [1982] I.L.R. 1-1459, 124 D.L.R. (3d) 455 (C.A.).  The discretion must be exercised judicially, i.e. not arbitrarily or capriciously.  And, as I have said, it must be exercised consistently with the Rules of Court.  But it would be a sorry result if like cases were not decided in like ways with respect to costs.  So, by judicial comity, principles have developed which guide the exercise of the discretion of a judge with respect to costs.  Those principles should be consistently applied: if a judge declines to apply them, without a reason for doing so, he may be considered to have acted arbitrarily or capriciously and not judicially.

[49] In Cridge, Lowry J.A. noted the right of the Lieutenant Governor in Council to restrict the exercise of a Supreme Court judge’s discretion in awarding costs at para. 23:

While, subject to abiding by established principles, a Supreme Court judge has a broad discretion in awarding costs, it remains open to the Lieutenant Governor in Council in promulgating the Rules of Court to restrict the exercise of that discretion as may be appropriate where it is thought that to do so will achieve a desired objective.  The purpose of Rule 37 is to encourage the settlement of litigation through prescribed consequences in costs as in sub-rule (24).  Given that the sub-rule provides for the litigants’ entitlement to costs while affording no discretionary alternative, I consider it clear that there is no room for judicial discretion where sub-rule (24) applies.

[50] A trial judge cannot impose cost sanctions that are not authorized by the Rules.  An example of an ill fated attempt to do so is Kurtakis v. Canadian Northern Shield Insurance Co.(1995), 17 B.C.L.R. (3d) 197, 45 C.P.C. (3d) 294 (C.A.).  In Kurtakis, the trial judge awarded the plaintiff three times special costs.  The Court of Appeal reversed noting at para. 9 that there was “no statutory authority for such an order … and therefore no basis upon which such an order could be made.”

[51] Rule 37B has returned to judges a broad discretion in regards to costs orders arising from an offer to settle.  The discretion is however not unlimited and must be exercised within the parameters set out in the Rule.  Rule 37B(5) dictates the cost options open to a judge when an offer to settle has been made.  A judge can either deprive the party, in whole or in part, of costs to which the party would otherwise be entitled in respect of steps taken in the proceeding after the date of the delivery of the offer to settle or award double costs of some or all of the steps taken in the proceeding after the delivery of the offer to settle.  As noted in Baker, the section is permissive and a judge is not compelled to do either.

[52] What a judge cannot do, however, in my respectful opinion, as a result of an offer to settle, is to order costs to a defendant where the offer to settle was in an amount greater than the judgment.  While that cost option had existed since the time of the 1890 rules, either as an exercise of the court’s discretion or because it was mandated by the terms of the rule, it is not an option available under Rule 37B.  The drafters of Rule 37B(5) have removed that option and presumably determined that the potential deprivation of costs to which a plaintiff would otherwise be awarded is a sufficient incentive for plaintiffs to settle litigation.  As noted in Cridge, the Lieutenant Governor in Council has the right to limit the court’s discretion.  Accordingly, I hold that pursuant to Rule 37B(5) the court cannot award costs to the defendant but is limited to depriving a party of costs or awarding double costs

[53] The defendant does not seek double costs in this case.  It would be a rare case that a plaintiff who recovers damages would face the sanction of double costs. I would expect those sanctions would be limited to situations in which a plaintiff’s case is dismissed or when the plaintiff was awarded more than its offer to settle.

If this precedent holds then Plaintiffs will face fewer financial risks when proceeding to trial.  The costs consequences of going to trial and losing (not beating an ICBC formal offer of settlement) can be prohibitive and today’s case may lead the way to better access to justice in British Columbia for the victims of others negligence.

Rule 37B and ICBC – J. Boyd Considers fact Defendant Insured by ICBC

As you may know Rule 37-B is the new BC rule dealing with formal settlements and costs consequences in the BC Supreme Court.  (to find my previous posts on this case search this cite for ’37B’).
This new rule will take some time to work itself out.  There are already conflicting reasons for judgement addressing whether it is appropriate to look at whether the Defendant is insured when considering costs consequences.
Last week J. Hinkson refused to consider the insurance status of a defendant when deciding whether to award ‘double costs’ after trial.
Reasons for judgement were released today considering the fact that the defendants were ‘represented by ICBC’ when weighing the ‘financial circumstances’ of the parties.
In addition to being the first precedent that has looked at the insurance status of the defendant as a relevant consideration, this case is interesting because it is the first to trigger ‘double costs’ even though a matter settled before judgement.
In this case the Plaintiff alleged a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury after a BC car accident.  She sued and made a formal offer to settle for $500,000 which expired at the start of trial.  The case settled on the 11th day of trial when the defendant’s offered to settle for $1 Million ‘plus assessable costs and disbursements’ less advances paid.  The Plaintiff’s accepted this offer.
The parties could not agree on the costs implications of the settlement were.  The Plaintiff asked for double costs because the Plaintiff’s reasonable settlement offer (which complied with Rule 37B) was rejected and the Plaintiff had to incur significant expense in running 11 days of trial prior to achieving settlement.
The court agreed the Plaintiff was entitled to double costs in these circumstances.  The key finding being made at paragraph 42 which I set out below:
  In the case at bar, on a review of the Rule and the authorities, I conclude that the plaintiff is indeed entitled to double costs from the date of the August 12th offer of settlement forward.  Since the defendants ultimately settled for an amount which was double the plaintiff’s original pre-trial offer, it is clear in my view that her original offer to settle “…was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted”.  Certainly the terms offered in August were far more advantageous to the defendants than the ultimate amount represented by the settlement agreement.  It is also clear that there is a substantial disparity in financial circumstances between the parties.  The defendants, represented by ICBC, had substantially greater resources to finance a trial than the individual plaintiff.  Had the defendants accepted the plaintiff’s initial reasonable offer, the plaintiff would not have had to incur the significant costs associated with nearly two weeks of trial
 

Why Can ICBC Claims Take a Long Time to Settle?

1. The medical system is slow
2. The Court system is slow
Personal injury cases depend on both the medical system and the court system. When you add these 2 systems together it is easy to see why it can take a very long time to fairly settle an ICBC injury claim.
In cases of minor injuries that quickly heal there is no reason for the settlement of the ICBC tort claim to take a long time. Once the injuries fully heal your losses can be valued, out of pocket expenses can be added up and a fair range for pain and suffering can be negotiated.
In cases of serious injury it is not that simple. Serious injuries can take a long time to heal. Sometimes they don’t fully heal, instead they plateau at what’s known as a point of ‘maximum medical improvement’. In cases of serious injury it is imprortant to learn what their long term consequences will be prior to settling with ICBC. The following are some of the questions that should be answered prior to settling:
1. Will the injuries fully heal?
2. If so, when will they fully heal?
3. If not, when will they reach the point of maximum medical improvement?
4. Will the injuries get worse with time? (such as the on-set of post-traumatic arthritis)
5. What effect will the injuries have in the long term on one’s ability to work?
6. What future care needs will be necessary to compensate for the long term injuries?
It is very difficult to fairly value an ICBC injury claim involving serious injuries if the answers to the above questions are not known. These questions often can’t be answered quickly. The medical system is slow. It can take a long time to get properly investigated (wait lists for specialists, who then order tests, wait lists for tests, wait lists to see the specialist again….)
Once the full long term impact of injuries is known they can be valued. Settling prematurely can be financially devastating if the long term reality of injuries is worse than anticipated at the time of settlement.  As a personal injury lawyer I often find myself speaking with people who settled their cases prematurely for amounts that significantly short change their injuries. It is only in rare circumstances that such settlements can be set aside.
Keep limitation periods in mind and know that time is on your side when it comes to settling an ICBC injury claim. The desire for quick settlement should never over-ride the desire for a fair settlement.

ICBC Claims and Trial Splitting

ICBC claims can be very expensive to bring to trial. Typically, most of the expenses are associated with the cost of presenting medical opinion evidence. Medical opinion evidence is often required to prove that injuries are caused by an accident, to discuss reasonable treatments (addressing special damages), and to address the specific diagnosis and prognosis of car accident related injuries. Such opinions can cost thousands of dollars to obtain and thousands more to present in court.
What if you have a case that is very risky? What if the trial outcome of ‘who is at fault’ is uncertain and should you lose on that issue you don’t want to be stuck with thousands of dollars of expenses for expert witness fees? Can you do anything about it? As with many areas of the law, the answer is sometimes.
Rule 39(29) of the BC Supreme Court Rules deals with splitting the issues at trial. In an ICBC claim, it is possible to use this rule to ask a court to let the liability (fault) part of a trial run first prior to the quantum part (the part that deals with the value of the ICBC claim).
Specifically, Rule 39(29) states that:
The court may order that one or more questions of fact or law arising in an action be tried and determined before the others, and upon the determination a party may move for judgment, and the court, if satisfied that the determination is conclusive of all or some of the issues between the parties, may grant judgment.
If the court allows an order splitting liability and quantum, and if you lose your ICBC claim at trial on the issue of liability, that could potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars by having the case dismissed prior to presenting all of your medical evidence.
Reasons for judgement were released today where the Honourable Madam Justice Allan refused to sever the issues of quantum and fault.
In paragraphs 11-15 her Ladyship summarizes some of the principles court’s consider when reviewing such an application. I set out these paragraphs below:

[11] There is ample authority for the proposition that an applicant must establish that there exist extraordinary, exceptional or compelling reasons for severance, and not merely that it would be just and convenient to order severance: MacEachern v. Rennie, 2008 BCSC 1064; Hynes v. Westfair Foods Ltd., 2008 BCSC 637; and Westwick v. Culbert, [1992] B.C.J. No. 2121.

[12] It is true that some recent cases have held that a judge’s discretion to sever an issue or issues is not restricted to “extraordinary or exceptional circumstances”: Nguyen v. Bains, 2001 BCSC 1130; Enterprising Minds Technology Inc. v. Lululemon Athletica Inc., 2006 BCSC 1168. However, there must be some compelling reasons to order severance, such as a real likelihood of a significant savings in time and expense.

[13] Mr. McGivern relies heavily on Vaughn v. Starko, [2004] Y.J. No. 50, a decision of the Yukon Supreme Court. In that case, the plaintiff sought a determination of liability pursuant to Rule 18A with damages to be assessed at a later date. Gower J. rejected the defendant’s argument that there must be extraordinary, exceptional or compelling reasons for a severance of liability and damages. He drew a distinction between applications under Rule 39(29) and Rule 18A. He concluded at para. 48 it would not be unjust to decide the issue of liability on a summary basis and that it would be appropriate to sever liability from the issue of damages. Because the application was made under Rule 18A, he found that it was not necessary to apply the heavier onus for severance that Rule 39(29) imposed.

[14] With respect, I do not agree with the analysis in that case. Rule 18A is a method of trying a case summarily. The issues in determining whether Rule 18A is suitable are (1) whether it is possible to find the facts necessary to decide the issues of fact or law; and (2) whether it would be unjust to decide those issues summarily. On the other hand, Rule 39(29) provides the Court with the discretion to try one question of fact or law before another and give judgment. A determination of an application for severance must be informed by the case law that relates to the issue of severance, not to the issue of disposing of an action summarily.

[15] In an earlier case, Legrand v. Canning and Canning, 2000 BCSC 1633, Scarth J. dealt with a severance application brought under Rule 18A. He concluded that the plaintiff had not established extraordinary, exceptional or compelling reasons for severance. In that case, the liability issues were not plain in the circumstances and there was a further issue of whether the plaintiff was contributorily negligent. Evidence relating to the severity of the impact in question was relevant to the issues of liability and quantum.

Rule 39(29) is worth reviewing for anyone advancing an ICBC claim where the issue of fault is uncertain to see if time and expense can be saved by severing the issues of fault and quantum.

Rule 37B – The First Precedent

Today I’m blogging from the sunny City of Vernon, having completed an examination for discovery a little earlier than expected with some time on my hands prior to returning to Victoria.
In the first precedent that I am aware of concening Rule 37B (The new BC Supreme Court Rule dealing with formal settlement offers) reasons for judgement were released today refusing to award a successful defendant double costs after trial.
While this is not and ICBC claim, nor even a personal injury claim for that matter, the factors that the court considered in refusing to order double costs may be relevant in an ICBC claim.
The facts of the case briefly are as follows: The Defendant was sued by the SPCA for the costs of care the SPCA incurred for some neglected animals. The Defendant denied liability and made a formal offer to settle the claim for $1. The Defendant succeeded at trial. In such a scenario, under the old Rule 37, the Defendant would likely be entitled to ‘double costs’. Here, the Defendant asked the court to excercises its discretion under the new Rule 37B to award double costs.
The court refused to do so setting out the following reasons:

The Law

[12] Rule 37B(1) reads in part:

(1) in this rule “offer to settle” means

an offer to settle made and delivered before July 2, 2008 under Rule 37, as that rule read on the date of the offer to settle, and in relation to which no order was made under that rule …

[13] In the circumstances, Rule 37B applies to the offer made by Mr. Baker.

[14] Rule 37B (5) and (6) read:

(5) In a proceeding in which an offer to settle has been made, the court may do one or both of the following:

(a) deprive a party, in whole or in part, of costs to which the party would otherwise be entitled in respect of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of delivery of the offer to settle;

(b) award double costs of all or some of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of delivery of the offer to settle.

(6) In making an order under subrule (5), the court may consider the following:

(a) whether the offer to settle was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted, either on the date that the offer to settle was delivered or on any later date;

(b) the relationship between the terms of settlement offered and the final judgment of the court;

(c) the relative financial circumstances of the parties;

(d) any other factor the court considers appropriate.

[15] Subrule (5) is permissive. It empowers the court to make either type of order mentioned in the subrule. By necessary implication, it contemplates that the court may make an order that denies one of the two forms of relief set out in the subrule……….

The court then went on to canvass some prinicples of Bankruptcy law and concluded that the Defendant’s offerwas not one that reasonably ought to have been accepted (pursuant to Rule 37B(6)(a) on the date of the offer to settle or before the Rule 18A hearing at which time, pursuant to Rule 37(13), the offer was no longer capable of acceptance.

The court then went on to deal with Rule 37B(6)(b) and held as follows:

Rule 37B (6) (b)

Rule 37B (6) (b)

[34] This subrule indicates that the court, when exercising its discretion under Rule 37B should consider the relationship between the offer and the result in the action. In this case, the offer to settle was for one dollar. There was no counterclaim. BCSPCA’s only risk was costs. An offer that would confer a significant benefit, aside from costs, on a party who failed to accept the offer would be more likely to attract double costs under Rule 37B that an offer of the type made by Mr. Baker.

Rule 37B (6) c)

[35] The means of the parties may be taken into consideration when exercising discretion under Rule 37B. The BCSPCA is a non-profit society dedicated to prevention of cruelty to animals. It is a substantial society. It had an operating surplus of $379,022 in 2007. Mr. Baker has not disclosed his financial circumstances. His counsel stated in submissions that he is of “modest means”.

Result

[36] In all the circumstances, Mr. Baker has not established that the offer he made was an offer that ought reasonably to have been accepted by BCSPCA under the law applicable during its currency. Acceptance would not have conferred a significant benefit on BCSPCA other that its effect on costs. Although BCSPCA is likely the party most able to bear the costs of the litigation, Mr. Baker has not shown that an award of double costs is, considering the other factors bearing on an award of costs under Rule 37B, necessary to avoid the imposition of hardship in the litigation.

It remains to be seen what the number of soon to be coming precedents will ultimatly hold for the interpretation of this rule, but this case illustrates that courts may not take to kindly to ‘nuisance value’ settlement offers of $1.

Contact

If you would like further information or require assistance, please get in touch.

ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

“Work hard, be kind and enjoy the ride!”
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